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Value Of Disclosing Donor Conception Studied

Cindy Farquhar by William Chea

Researchers are set to find out how many parents are telling children who were conceived through sperm or egg donors.

University of Auckland researchers are asking parents whether they have told children who were conceived thanks to sperm, egg and embryo donations.

Donor-conceived children who turn 18 this year (2024) are the first cohort legally allowed to request information about their donor biological parent from Births, Deaths and Marriages.

This is because of a law change in 2004, which created a register of donors that took effect from 2006.
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Cindy Farquhar CNZM, who is also clinical director of Fertility Plus at National Women’s, is leading the study.

“There are only really two ways to find out that you are donor-conceived, one is if your parents tell you and the second is to do genetic testing.

“It’s important to know whether children have been told, because the clinics, when they help people become pregnant using donor sperm, donor eggs or donor embryos, provide a counselling service.

“The advice is always to tell the children, from an early age, that they have a biological parent through donor conception. “It’s a highly sensitive topic and doing it by a survey, which is anonymous, seemed like the best way forward.”

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The survey is being distributed by fertility clinics and follows a hui in 2022 with other universities, clinicians, counsellors and advocacy group Donor-Conceived Aotearoa.

Now, Professor Farquhar and the University team have received ethics approval to distribute around 1500 surveys to parents of donor-conceived children aged nine to 18 years.

The survey primarily asks whether parents have told their children. “There are quite a few other questions around how they were told,” says Professor Farquhar.

“How old were they when they were told? How many people outside of the family know? Have they met their biological parents already?”

The researchers will present their findings in various forums and hope it will reassure fertility clinics that disclosure can be a positive experience for all involved.

Donor Conceived Aotearoa, supports survey
Even in the current era of growing openness, we know significant numbers of parents never find the ‘right time’ to tell, says Rebecca Hamilton, a spokesperson for support and advocacy group Donor-Conceived Aotearoa.

“We hear from many parents who want to do the right thing but need additional support to do so,” Hamilton says.

“For clinics to simply advise parents to disclose, when they are in the midst of trying to conceive, is not enough. So, this research is critical to determine what kind of additional support is needed for parents to disclose donor conception to their children.”

According to Donor-Conceived Aotearoa, it is different for every donor-conceived person, but common themes about the value of disclosure include:

  • the value of knowing one's medical history and predisposition to genetic illnesses
  • knowledge of whakapapa
  • the ability to date without worrying about accidental incest with half-siblings, especially given New Zealand's small population size.

“For me, finding my biological father's identity has meant all these things and so much more,” says the spokesperson,” Hamilton says.

“I lived for 40 years feeling like a stranger in my own skin, but when I found my missing information, I finally made sense to myself.”

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